Big Hearted Champion
'The one on 13 was more difficult,' Els said. 'On 18 I had more room to work the ball. I just had to keep my balance on the left side. And I could almost hit it a little heavy and the ball would still release, but the one on 13 I was still amazed I got it out there and almost holed it.'
The two best pot bunker shots since Brian Watts' miracle at Birkdale in '98 rescued Els from what would have been a disastrous collapse, the kind from which he might not have recovered for some time.
'Some people just never recover,' said Els. 'I wouldn't say I would have been one of them if I didn't win, but I would have been a really different person after this. But now in a good way, I'm a different person again. Now I'm back on track. I can now legitimately try and win the majors. Four majors.'
After a disappointing finish at Augusta, Ernie spoke of the little guy on his shoulder whispering negative thoughts. It's the little guy all of us drag around when we play. It's the little guy who's deathly afraid of Tiger Woods but no one else it seems.
'I guess I'll never get rid of him, but it's getting better,' he explained. 'I mean this week I had a chance a couple of times to break away and the little guy just kept sitting on my shoulder. Even on the last playoff hole, I got him back again. So it was difficult. But I'm proud of myself for getting this one.'
Els has always said his goal was to win the career slam. He's halfway home now, even if it took five years to take that incredibly difficult and exhausting second step.
Too humble to accept the tag as the guy who stopped the slam, Ernie added, 'I think the weather stopped the slam, too. It definitely stopped Tiger in his tracks yesterday. Tiger is probably going to have another opportunity to do it. He's the only player that can probably do it.'
Els spent countless tournament days graciously answering questions about Tiger Woods over the last several years. Where some other guys bristled when the inevitable questions about Woods poured in, Ernie spoke honestly and without rancor. Some criticized him for giving Tiger too much credit. But Ernie's simply too good-natured to respond in bitter fashion.
And now, at last, it's his time to bask in the glory. Most importantly, it's unlikely you'd ever come across a superstar athlete as warm and nice and down to earth as the 131st Open Champion. Talk to Ernie and you'd never know you're standing next to one of the finest athletes in the world. He's a classy champion, and a better human being.
Rahm focusing on play, not shot at No. 1
SAN DIEGO – Jon Rahm’s meteoric rise in the world rankings could end with him reaching No. 1 with a win this week at Torrey Pines.
After winning last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his fourth title in 51 weeks, Rahm has closed the gap on Dustin Johnson – less than 1.5 average points separates them.
With Johnson not playing this week, the 23-year-old Spaniard has a chance to reach the top spot for the first time, but only if he defends his title at the Farmers Insurance Open.
“Beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task. It’s no easy task,” he said Tuesday. “We still have four days of golf ahead and we’ll see what happens. But I’ll try to focus more on what’s going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win.
“I’ll try my best, that’s for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”
Rahm has already become the fourth-youngest player to reach No. 2 in the world, behind Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy.
Rahm: Playoff wasn't friendly, just 'nervous'
SAN DIEGO – Too chummy? Jon Rahm says he and Andrew Landry were just expending some nervous energy on the walk up to the fairway during the first playoff hole of the CareerBuilder Challenge.
“I wouldn’t have been that nervous if it was friendly,” Rahm said with a smile Tuesday. “I think it was something he said because we were talking going out of the first tee.
“I didn’t know Andrew – I think it was a pretty good time to get to know him. We had at least 10 minutes to ourselves. It’s not like we were supporting each other, right? We were both in it together, we were both nervous together, and I felt like talking about it might have eased the tension out of both of us.”
On Sunday, two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange saw the exchange on TV and tweeted: “Walking off the tee talking to each other. Are you kidding me? Talking at all?”
Strange followed up by saying that, in a head-to-head situation, the last thing he’d want to do was make his opponent comfortable. When his comments went viral, Strange tweeted at Rahm, who won after four holes: “Hopefully no offense taken on my comment yesterday. You guys are terrific. I’m a huge fan of all players today. Made an adverse comment on U guys talking during playoff. Not for me. A fan.”
Not surprisingly, the gregarious Rahm saw things differently.
“We only talked going out of the first tee up until the fairway,” he said. “Besides that, all we said was, ‘Good shot, good putt, see you on the next tee.’ That’s what it was reduced to. We didn’t say much.”
Tiger grouped with Reed, Hoffman at Torrey Pines
SAN DIEGO – Tiger Woods will make his 2018 debut alongside Patrick Reed and Charley Hoffman.
The threesome will go off Torrey Pines’ South Course at 1:40 p.m. ET Thursday at the Farmers Insurance Open. They begin at 12:30 p.m. Friday on the North Course.
Woods is an eight-time winner at Torrey Pines, including the 2008 U.S. Open, but he hasn’t broken 70 in his last seven rounds on either course. Last year, he shot rounds of 76-72 to miss the cut.
Reed, who has grown close to Woods after being in his pod during the past two international team competitions, is coming off a missed cut last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Hoffman, a San Diego native, has only two top-10s in 20 career starts at Torrey.
Other featured groups for the first two rounds include:
• Jon Rahm, Jason Day and Brandt Snedeker: 1:30 p.m. Thursday off South 1, 12:20 p.m. Friday off North 10
• Rickie Fowler, Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele: 12:30 p.m. Thursday off North 10, 1:30 p.m. Friday off South 1
• Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose, Hideki Matsuyama: 12:40 p.m. Thursday off North 10, 1:40 p.m. Friday off South 1
Singh's lawsuit stalls as judge denies motion
Vijay Singh’s attempts to speed up the proceedings in his ongoing lawsuit against the PGA Tour have been stalled, again.
Singh – who filed the lawsuit in New York Supreme Court in May 2013 claiming the Tour recklessly administered its anti-doping program when he was suspended, a suspension that was later rescinded – sought to have the circuit sanctioned for what his attorneys argued was a frivolous motion, but judge Eileen Bransten denied the motion earlier this month.
“While the court is of the position it correctly denied the Tour’s motion to argue, the court does not agree that the motion was filed in bad faith nor that it represents a ‘persistent pattern of repetitive or meritless motions,’” Bransten said.
It also doesn’t appear likely the case will go to trial any time soon, with Bransten declining Singh’s request for a pretrial conference until a pair of appeals that have been sent to the court’s appellate division have been decided.
“What really should be done is settle this case,” Bransten said during the hearing, before adding that it is, “unlikely a trail will commence prior to 2019.”
The Tour’s longstanding policy is not to comment on ongoing litigation, but earlier this month commissioner Jay Monahan was asked about the lawsuit.
“I'll just say that we're going through the process,” Monahan said. “Once you get into a legal process, and you've been into it as long as we have been into it, I think it's fair to assume that we're going to run it until the end.”